Chris Turner once worked at Xerox Business Services (XBS), a 15,000-strong service arm of the document company. Turner was first at regional offices, then at headquarters. When she was at HQ, her initial job was executive assistant to the president, then she moved to the XBS Quality group. As people who still remember the Baldrige Award know, Xerox received it. It happened back in ’89. Turner moved to the XBS Quality group in ’93. Which is to note that it was undoubtedly a comparatively important area in which to have one’s desk. While there, she agitated, cajoled and generally drove learning and change. She spent some four years in that role. And then, perhaps because she “found jobs at Xerox consuming and frustrating,” she left. One of the things she’s done since is written All Hat and No Cattle: Tales of a Corporate Outlaw: Shaking Up the System & Making a Difference At Work (Perseus Books; $25; 251 pp.). Yes, she’s from Texas, and she sometimes writes with guns a-blazin’, as in, “Management teams too often are made up of people who think, walk, and talk alike; who spend more time worrying about stock price than the quality and depth of organizational thinking; and who spend little time on personal learning, exploring new ideas, or expanding their worldviews. Ideas that challenge the status quo are usually dismissed out of hand. The old, stale thinking of these teams seeps into organizational systems, creating environments that are, for the most part, sluggish, mediocre, and damn near unconscious.”
In some regards, this is a tell-all book about XBS: as Turner no longer works there, spilling the beans about some of its foibles and failures doesn’t have the immediate consequence that it might (but didn’t anyone tell her about the proverbial burning of bridges?). Still, who can resist such things as her proclaiming, “But what nobody at Xerox will ‘fess up to is the Dark Side of Quality,” and then her laying it out. (E.g., “the big cheeses didn’t do quality . . . One corporate guy was famous for reacting to bad news by pounding on the table and yelling, ‘Whose ass can I fire for this?’”)
The real substance in the book is found in her spirited emphasis on the importance of learning. So far as she is concerned, it is essential, not optional, necessary, not just nice. Consider: “We must think of learning and work in the same way that we think about breathing: Which is more valuable, breathing in or breathing out? Obviously, you’ve got to have both. Learning is not an either/or proposition.” How often have you thought, “Well, it would probably be good if I read this book [or took that class or attended that conference or learned how to operate that software package]” only to figure that you’ve been too busy with the day-to-day demands so why bother to do it? Hold your breath for too long and you kill brain cells. Stop exposing yourself to new learning opportunities and you might as well hold your breath for too long.
At XBS Turner was what is now euphemistically called a “change agent.” In her case, a more accurate term might be “rabble rouser” if it didn’t have bad connotations for those being roused—but you know what I mean. She shares many stories about the things that she and her co-conspirators did to push learning and consequent change, which are both amusing and potentially helpful.
If there is one thing valuable to remember from this write-up, it is this observation from Turner: “Change happens in the doing, not in the talking.” If you don’t do it—whatever it may be to drive change in your organization—don’t expect anyone else to.—GSV